Social Media Addiction.

I am currently reading the book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari. It’s a fairly predictable read so far, going through all the different aspects of how we are less able to focus in today’s social media world. As yet, it hasn’t added anything new. This whole discussion is intriguing, but I’m not sure I agree with Johann Hari.

I am a member of Generation Z. I don’t know a time without the internet and barely know a time without social media. I struggle with keeping off my phone, just as everyone else my age does. Our attention is fragmented, scattered, lost to technology. When I make content, I am tuning it to an attention span of 5 seconds, maximum. But there is a flip side to this.

When people in the generations before us wonder about something, don’t know how something works or need to know a piece of information, their reaction is to think about it, perhaps ask someone close to them, probably not come to any reasonable conclusion, and forget about that thought. People in my generation have a thought, Google it, look up YouTube videos, check it on Twitter, search the query on Facebook to find the answer. You shouldn’t trust everything you see on the internet, but to be fair, it has a pretty good hit rate. And generation Z has a better bullshit detector on internet content anyway – we generally know what a scam looks like, and they are laughable. Scammers only need to fool boomers to make their money.

This is a bloody powerful benefit. The coalescing of billions of people’s knowledge on different subjects. I don’t think you can separate this from the addictive nature of social media. If it wasn’t so addictive, people wouldn’t have spent as much time on it, and it wouldn’t be as good of a resource for building a knowledge base. Just like in the real world, if you stay out of the bad neighbourhoods and spend time in the good neighbourhoods, you will produce better results than not having the technology at all. And we all know what the good and bad neighbourhoods are. So long as you stay away from politics and the culture wars, you have avoided 99% of the toxic internet spaces. In the world before social media, people still took drugs and got smashed every weekend, even if they knew it was unhealthy. Consuming and participating in culture wars is the same thing. We know it’s unhealthy, but we do it anyway.

There is an intense focus on the parts of social media where people have become toxic, i.e. politics and culture wars, when talking about our “stolen focus”. But what about the abundance of wonderful spaces on the internet and social media. I can go on Facebook right now and join in a specific community talking about any subject I can think of.

There is something more troubling than social media use itself which plagues my generation – a complete reluctance to say anything controversial for fear of being “cancelled”. Whenever I thought about free speech, I thought of an authoritarian government cracking down on criticism. I never thought of free speech being eroded from the inside out. But once again, this reluctance to say anything controversial has come more from the toxic spaces on social media than anywhere else. As a society, we have let that feeling permeate other parts of our lives, to the point where many, especially in my generation, are afraid to say anything at all. We offer caveats and pre-apologies. “I just think maybe that sometimes, and this is a generalisation, but in some circumstances, [whatever statement].” That is how fundamentally decent people phrase things. And those people that they are trying to placate only speak in absolutes. The irony.